South Asia Economic Conclave

Sensex swings

Mumbai Metro III update

The 33.5 km Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ underground line has interchangeable points at important stations like Mumbai Central, Grant Road, Mahalaxmi, Dadar and Santacruz Even as the Metro III project battles opposition from residents and activists over alignments and rehabilitation issues, the Western Railway (WR) has given its green signal to the 33.5 km Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ underground line.
Officials said issues at Mumbai Central, Grant Road and Mahalaxmi have been sorted out. According to the plan, a Metro station is proposed at Mumbai Central, opposite to the long-distance terminal on Dr Nair Marg. The Metro III line starting from Cuffe Parade will run through Nariman Point, Churchgate, CST, Girgam, Worli, Mahim, Kalina University, Dadar, Bandra, Bandra-Kurla Complex, and will terminate at SEEPZ.
Officials working on Metro III said the WR has assured that land required for the construction purposes will be made available without any delay. The authorities have conducted a joint inspection and also handed over the Google map of the sites required for Metro 3 to the railways.
Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority officials said the contract is likely to be awarded by December 2015 and the project is expected to be completed in 2020.

IndiGo gets approval for more aircraft

IndiGo, India's largest carrier in terms of passengers flown, has received approvals from the government to induct another 400 planes in its fleet till 2025, taking the total addition to 550, a development that analysts believe is a prelude to the airline getting into cross-border ventures.
The plan to add 550 aircraft in a span of a decade, if implemented, will be the biggest-ever fleet induction in the history of Indian aviation.
IndiGo has always surprised the market with its huge order book. It entered aviation business in 2006 with an order for 100 Airbus A320s. This was followed up with an order for a further 180 in 2011 and another order of 250 aircraft last year with an option of 100 more.
The airline had in May 2010 received approvals to import 150 planes (out of 180 ordered in 2011) and has imported 12 of these till this month. “The current approval is to import 400 aircraft by 2025, which is over a ten-year period.They had applied for permission in December 2014 and have received in-principle approvals for the same,“ said a senior civil aviation ministry official.
Confirming this, an Indigo spokesperson said that the approvals include 30 planes from the 2011 order and 250 planes ordered last year, with options to raise it to 350 if need arises.
Analysts, however, feel that such huge orders cannot be only to feed the Indian domestic market and the airline would be looking at cross-border joint ventures.
IndiGo-controlled InterGlobe Enterprises Ltd ­ a company owned by Rahul Bhatia and Rakesh Gangwal, former US Airways CEO ­ accounted for over 37% of the total passengers flown during February. With a fleet of 93 Airbus A320, the airline offers 613 daily flights connecting 37 destinations across the country.
It is the only carrier in the country to have made profits in the past six years. The airline's net profit for 2013-14 fell 60% to Rs.317 crore compared to Rs.787 crore in the previous fiscal.

Bharat Ratna & other awards....

Opposition leaders were conspicuous by their absence at the Bharat Ratna and Padma awards ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday where President Pranab Mukherjee gave away the honours to senior politicians L K Advani, Parkash Singh Badal, sportspersons P V Sindhu, Arunima Singh, academician David Frawley and film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Noted educationist and freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malviya was posthumously conferred the Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian award.
Among the Padma Vibhushan awardees were Advani, Badal and Jagadguru Swami Rambhadracharya. Padma Bhushan was awarded to lawyer Harish Salve and journalists Swapan Dasgupta and Rajat Sharma.
Among the prominent Padma Shri awardees were film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, writer-lyricist Prasoon Joshi, physician Dr Randeep Guleria, creator of popular cartoon character “Chacha Chaudhary“ Pran Kumar Sharma (posthumously), shuttler P V Sindhu, hockey star Sardara Singh and amputee Everest climber Arunima Sinha.
Last week, the President had conferred Bharat Ratna on former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his house in Delhi. The ceremony was attended by PM Narendra Modi, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley , Smriti Irani and Mahesh Sharma and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.

Somewhere online....

Pragati Maidan to get an upgrade

To bring Delhi's exhibition infrastructure at par with international standards, India Trade Promotion Organization's board has cleared a proposal to demolish six exhibition halls at Pragati Maidan to make way for a convention centre, hotel and vehicle parking. Halls 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 will have to go for the proposed centre to come up. Of a total of 25 acres of land, nine acres will be used. A hotel will be built on four acres. A park will also be developed .
Setting March 2017 as deadline for the convention centre, the agency will spend Rs.600 crore on the project. Officials say even health and handloom pavilions will be razed. The ministry of health has given its nod to bring down the health pavilion.
The first exhibition hall came up in 1972 and since then no redevelopment has taken place. Constructed in old style, there are a total of 18 halls used for exhibition purposes but, as there are no air conditioners, they fall in disuse during summers
Earlier, there were plans to turn some of the halls into heritage buildings and use them as museums.
VIP entry for the convention centre will be through gate number 5 and business visitors will enter from gate number 2. On the way to the centre, a green area will be developed over 100 square metres. 

Pictures on EVMs

The Election Commission of India has instructed chief electoral officers (CEO) of all states and Union territories to display the photographs of candidates on electronic voting machines or ballot papers along with their names and symbols for all elections held from May 1.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, NCP Maharashtra unit chief Sunil Tatkare lost the elections by a margin of 2,100 votes. Another `dummy' candidate Sunil Tatkare fielded by his rivals to confuse voters polled 9,500 votes.


Saina, Srikanth win India Open Badminton

Indian badminton never had it so good on home soil. One can't complain though.World No. 1 Saina Nehwal and world No. 4 Kidambi Srikanth were playing. The crowd--raucous, colourful, delirious-was not disappointed. They jived, they danced and went back after witnessing history being created.
A super-aggressive Saina knocked the wind out of world No. 8 Ratchanok Intanon 21-16, 21-14 in a 50-minute show of smashes, flicks, fleet movements and complete control from the word go. The Thai girl could hardly find an answer to Saina's new-found status that spelt belligerence in capital letters. Saina opened up huge leads and tempted Ratchanok to play catch up. But Ratchanok had little fuel left in her tank to fight the ferocity of Saina's stinging smashes.
Srikanth was not too far behind. Though he lost the first game to sixth seed Viktor Axelsen, the boy from Guntur pulled counter-punches to carry the day 18-21, 21-13, 21-12. Srikanth, who was ranked No. 47 last year, has made it to the top 5 in just 14 months and promises to be where Saina is today . I didn't play my best in the first game. I was a little disappointed. I started the second game really well and it helped. In the third, it was 12-12 and after that there was no looking back. I got a few lucky net chords and my smashes came off rather well,“ said the ever-smiling and confident Srikanth.
China won the mixed doubles and men's doubles while a Japanese pair clinched the women's doubles title.
BAI president Akhilesh Das Gupta announced a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh to Saina for achieving the world No.1 spot and for winning the Yonex Sunrise India Open. He also announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for Srikanth for winning the men's title at the Siri Fort Stadium.

BJP: The World's Largest Party

BJP has become the largest political party in the world with its enrolment drive in the past five months taking its membership to 8.8 crore. The Communist Party of China was until now considered the largest party with about 8.6 crore members.
Sources said the party hit the 8.8 crore mark on Sunday and the BJP expects its membership to cross 10 crore by the end of this month, exactly what it had aimed for when it launched the drive in November last year. Party president Amit Shah will announce the final figure at the national executive to be held in Bangalore on April 3-4.
The ambitious drive was Shah's idea. He views a base of active members as a device for consolidating the party's freshly achieved pre-eminence. However, sceptics say the groundswell in membership is no reliable reflection of the party's actual strength on the ground. The BJP is set to become the world's largest party soon. However, sceptics say that while PM Narendra Modi's popularity and the party's current influence may draw thousands into the fold, their loyalty will remain suspect and they might bolt when the going gets tough.
Sources in the party maintain that the enrolment through missed calls is a huge improvement over the old practice where block-level functionaries would mention names of purported members to meet targets.
The leadership had no way of independently verifying these claims.
In the new scheme, the party can scrutinize registrations by calling up numbers from where missed calls originated. The membership drive will officially come to an end on March 31 but there are chances it may be extended in a few states like Maharashtra where according to the party , a large number of people are still calling to register them selves with the party. After UP, where it has set a target of 1.5 crore, Maharashtra is expected to fetch the maximum number of members for the party.

Somewhere in Lucknow....

India's largest Gold seizure

In the largest ever gold seizure by law enforcement agencies in the country , officers of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence have seized 87 kg gold near Siliguri. Valued at Rs.25 crore, the gold was on its way to Kolkata after being smuggled from Myanmar through the porous India-Myamnar border in Manipur.Two persons have been arrested. They were produced before a court in Siliguri on Saturday .
The seizure has once again brought the spotlight on smuggling in northeastern states.
Acting on a tip-off, DRI sources intercepted and searched a four-wheeler near Siliguri on Friday . Initially nothing was found in the car.But later, packets of gold were found inside the car's bonnet.The recovery of the huge quantity of gold startled even the DRI officials.
Intelligence officials refused to divulge the identity of the arrested duo for the time being. But during interrogation, they got to know that the duo was supposed to hand the consignment over to local dealers in Kolkata. It is believed that smugglers have changed their modus operandi and started sneaking into the country with gold in small tranches after border patrolling was stepped up recently .
The country's porous borders with countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan in northeastern states have always been a cause of concern for the law enforcement agencies. Lack of surveillance infrastructure in this area, many parts of which are geographically inaccessible, has given rise to trans-border crimes.
Last year, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh wanted to replace Assam Rifles personnel by Border Security Force to enhance patrolling along the India-Myanmar border. Myanmar has long been troubled by smuggling rackets that are involved in narcotics, gold and fake currency notes.
Intelligence officials believe the mountainous paths are also used by extremist outfits to smuggle weapons.
In February , Gujarat Police had made its single biggest seizure of gold -60 kg -which was so far the largest gold seizure in the country before the Siliguri incident. Last month, revenue intelligence officials seized 55 kg gold from Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.

Kerala heading towards Zero Population Growth

With Kerala registering the lowest growth rate of population in the last one decade, the state is all set to achieve “zero population growth“ in the coming years. While the national rate of growth of population in the last 10 years is 17.6%, the growth rate of state population during the period is 4.9%, the lowest rate among Indian states, according to the latest Economic Review by the state Planning Board. “The population growth trend shows that Kerala is moving towards zero population growth or towards negative growth,“ the review for the year 2014 said.
Quoting the final data published by the directorate of census, it said the state's population as on March 2011 was 3,34,06,061. It was 3,18,41,374 in 2001.
The report reveals that six southern districts -Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Kollam, Pathanamthitta and Thiruvananthapuram -have lower growth rate.
However, the state's population density is much higher than that of the country -860 persons per sq km as compared to the national figure of 382 per sq km.

Aadhaar enrolments

Aadhaar numbers assigned to adult residents in 13 of the country's 36 states and Union territories have exceeded their respective population as per 2011 census figures. Not only this, the overall Aadhaar coverage in Delhi and Telangana is already more than their population.
Unusual as it seems, experts claim this anomaly between the census figures and Aadhaar numbers assigned in the states is not abnormal.Apart from attributing it to the increase in population since 2011 and migration of residents in between states, they also allege that certain “gaps“ in census enumeration may have left scope for errors in the population data.
While Aadhaar coverage among the Delhi's 18-plus age group is the highest at 127.6% of their 2011 headcount, other states reflecting this trend are undivided Andhra Pradesh (113.7%), Himachal Pradesh (112.5%), Sikkim (109.2%), Punjab (109.1%), Kerala (108.6%), Lakshadweep (108%), Jharkhand (107.1%), Chandigarh (106.9%), Goa (106.8%), Puducherry (106.8%), Tripura (103.8%) and Haryana (103.5%).
Incidentally , in Delhi and Telangana, Aadhaar numbers allotted so far stand at 105.9% and 102.9% of their 2011 census population.Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which administers the scheme, has so far assigned 786 million numbers. While 642 million numbers were generated in 24 statesUTs assigned to UIDAI, around 144 million Aadhaar numbers were assigned in the 12 states being handled by Registrar General of India. UIDAI officials discount the possibility of any errors in Aadhaar enrolment, claiming that the data collected by them is foolproof as it contains biometrics that are unique to each resident.
The census authorities, on the other hand, insist that its enumeration exercise is time-tested and based on a elaborate house-to-house verification of the residents.
UIDAI states are ahead of RGI states in terms of Aadhaar enrolment, with the UIDAI having covered over 80% population across 14 states.

IRNSS gets it's 4th satellite

India successfully launched the fourth of the seven Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) satellites on Saturday using Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C27). This means the country's answer to the American GPS and Russia's Glonass will be ready for tests by next month, as four is the minimum number of satellites needed for the system to go functional. The system, with applications in terrestrial and aerial navigation, disaster management, mapping and surveillance will be fully operational by next year, after three more satellites are launched.
PSLV-C27 lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota at 5.19 pm and placed the 1,425 kg IRNSS-1D in orbit with precision. Once in the preliminary orbit, the satellite deployed its two solar panels in quick succession and started beaming signals.
It was Isro's first rocket launch under its new chairman A S Kiran Kumar.
It was a textbook launch as all the four stages went as planned. The first stage of the rocket successfully separated 130 seconds after the lift-off and the second stage ignited as planned. At 262 seconds, the second stage of the rocket burned out as planned and soon the third stage was ignited.The fourth stage also performed as expected and 19 minutes and 25 seconds after lift-off, the satellite was ejected.
The Master Control Facility at Hassan took control of the satellite and performed the orbit raising manoeuvres. The liquid apogee motor of the satellite will be fired sequentially to attain a circular geostationary orbit.
IRNSS will have civilian and military applications. With a 1,500 km range, it will make India self-reliant on surveillance from outer space, covering the Asian region. It will be utilized for two services -standard positioning service (SPS) extended to all users and restricted service (RS) which will be encrypted.


The government cleared a DRDO project to build advanced “eyes in the sky“, or next-generation AWACS (airborne warning and control systems), which can detect incoming aerial threats like hostile fighters, drones and cruise missiles from 400-km away .
The Manohar Parrikar-led defence acquisitions council (DAC) approved the building of two AWACS, which will involve mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on Airbus A-330 wide-body jets, at a cost of Rs.5,113 crore.
The eventual plan is to induct eight such aircraft under the “ AWACS-India“ project since both China and Pakistan are well ahead of India in this critical area in modern-day warfare. “It will take at least five-seven years to build the first two AWACS. Six more will be ordered when the project is midway ,“ said a source. The decision, incidentally, comes ahead of PM's visit to France and Germany , which primarily house the European Airbus consortium, in early-April.
The clear takeaway from the DAC was the AWACS project, where a single-vendor situation had emerged. “ Airbus was the only aviation major ready for the design and development project. It will involve structural and electrical changes to the A-330 aircraft...the airframe will have to be cut to fit the radar dome on the top,“ said a source

Tremors in AAP

Amidst chaos and high drama, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were expelled from AAP's national executive on Saturday , in a possible precursor to their ouster from the party .
A resolution to remove the two from the panel was passed immediately after party chief Arvind Kejriwal left the national council meeting after his hour-long speech in which he asked the 311 members present to choose between him and the duo. The resolution was introduced by 147 members and read out by Kejriwal loyalist Manish Sisodia. No showcause notice was given to Bhushan or Yadav, nor were they allowed to speak at the meeting.
The resolution for expulsion of the duo, along with their supporters Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha, was passed by 247 members, AAP national secretary Pankaj Gupta said, adding that 10 members had opposed it while 54 others did not take part in the voting.
The 54 who abstained included all those who had walked out of the meeting along with Yadav and Bhushan. The dissident duo termed the nation al council meeting “unconstitutional and illegal“ and did not rule out taking legal recourse. Saturday's dramatic developments brought the month-long acrimonious exchanges between Kejriwal loyalists and the dissidents to a climax. The Yadav-Bhushan duo had been ousted from the all-powerful political affairs committee earlier this month.Yadav and Bhushan claimed AAP's internal Lokpal, Admiral L Ramdas (retd), who has been attending the party's NC meets, was asked by the AAP leadership not to attend the meeting as his presence could result in “confrontation“.
Accusing Kejriwal of being dictatorial and using unfair means, the duo alleged that his people got bouncers to the national council meeting who beat up members opposed to the resolution. “It was a murder of democracy . Everything played out in accordance with a predetermined script and the resolution was moved and passed within minutes, completely disregarding laid down procedures. It was a total farce,“ said an agitated Yadav.
Bhushan said, “It is true that we can move the court, Election Commission or call another meeting of the NC. All options are open.“ He said a decision would be taken after discussion with their supporters and volunteers. Bhushan accused Kejriwal of coming fully prepared to “kick us out“ from the party and claimed that a number of NC members who supported him and Yadav were injured. “Whatever Kejriwal was heard saying in a sting yesterday was played out in the entirety in today's meeting. There was no distinction between AAP and other parties. There was no discussion, no secret vote, no showing of votes in the meeting,“ he said.
The senior SC lawyer added, “I have been telling him (Arvind Kejriwal) that he has dictatorial tendencies and that he should curb those. But today , he has showed that he can use these tendencies ruthlessly . I regret to say that I have tried and failed at helping Arvind Kejriwal curb his dictatorial tendencies.'' During his speech, Kejriwal gave an account of the party's journey to power in Delhi. He also alleged that Yadav and Bhushan were trying to weaken the party .
Responding to the accusations being made by Yadav and Bhushan, senior AAP members of the Kejriwal camp addressed their own press conference, saying that no bouncers were present in the premises and the entire proceedings had been video recorded so that if it was required to prove that people had not been roughed up, they could present the video.



Somewhere in Pune....

While fog is generally associated with winters, it made an unusual descent upon Pune on Friday, when despite the hot weather, a dense blanket could be seen covering several areas. Experts say the reason behind this was wind discontinuation from Lakshadweep to Konkan and Goa. Rain and thunderstorms were also observed in an associated phenomenon, in central Maharashtra, Konkan and Goa. In fact, surprise rain is predicted for Pune this weekend, too

Somewhere in Andhra Pradesh....

Aviation snippets

A series of heavy discounts helped Indian carriers fly 21.6% more passengers in February this year compared with the same month last year. Budget carrier IndiGo continued to lead the way, registering a record market share of 37.1% during the month. In January, the airline's market share was at 36.4%. Jet Airways, along with JetLite too, managed to improve its market share marginally to 24.3% (up from 24.1% in January).
National carrier Air India came in third with 17.8% share of air traffic, a decline over 18.7% the airline had recorded in the month before. For others, market share remained largely con stant -SpiceJet 9.2% (9.4% n January), GoAir 8.9%, Air Costa 1%, AirAsia 1.2%                                     (1.3% in January) and Vistara 0.5% (0.2% in January).
As per data available with the aviation regulator DGCA, airlines' occupancy improved in February due to reduction of additional flights by airlines and distribution of passengers on existing flights.
During this period, Jet Airways and JetLite reported the highest seat occupancy at 89.5% and 89.7%, respectively, while the newlylaunched Tata-SIA joint venture Vistara continued to struggle, filling only 58.6% of its seats. IndiGo's passenger load factor stood at 88%, while that of Air India improved to 83.8% from 82.4% in January .
IndiGo also turned in the best on-time performance (OTP) with 83.8% of its flights sticking to scheduled time in February. SpiceJet came in next with ontime performance of 75.8%.Air India came last in terms of punctuality with 70.9%.However, the airline's OTP got better over 52.1% recorded in January.

Bangladeshis behind Ranaghat incident

On the night of March 12, police picked up a dozen-odd men for a drunken brawl in a house in Golabati Malibagan in Habra, North 24 Parganas. They were let off on bail the next morning. A few hours later, eight of them would raid a convent in Ranaghat -some 50 km away -and unleash horrific violence on the nuns, say police.
Among them was Md Selim Sheikh, who allegedly raped the 71-year-old nun, shaming Bengal before the world.Selim and the owner of the Habra house, Gopal Sarkar, were arrested on Thursday . CID's investigation so far follows the initial line that all or most of the culprits were Bangladeshis. Selim had sneaked across the border a few days before the crime and Sarkar had come over from Bangladesh in 2002 and posed as a mason, say police.
In fact, CID officers said on Friday , Sarkar may have been the mastermind of the entire operation. He picked the target, plotted the robbery and put together a group of eight hardened Bangladeshi criminals so that they wouldn't be easily traced, say investigators. He had also planned their escape back across the border, said an officer.Sarkar's plan was so meticulous that he got three of the criminals to cross over using valid documents. They slipped out through the Gede border outpost after getting their valid Bangladeshi passports stamped, sources say . Three others crossed over illegally.
Sarkar's plan would have been foolproof had Selim and another accused, Milon Sk alias Milon Bhai, not stayed back, say police. While Selim headed off to Mumbai, where he was arrested, Milon's whereabouts are unknown. “It is now established that three criminals entered India with valid passport and visa, carried out the crime and left India with valid travel documents,“ a senior officer said.
Tracking Sarkar wasn't easy . He had no criminal record here and there wasn't even a hint of suspicion against him. CID officers started checking cellphone calls after the sisters told them that the gang made cellphone calls during the robbery and spoke in an accent prevalent in the border areas. The agency then sought a list of all calls made in a 3-5km radius. They ended up analyzing half a million calls. “Most calls have a pattern. People dial certain numbers at regular intervals. We tried to eliminate these and identify the calls that were non-regular,“ a source said. This brought down the number of suspicious calls from 5 lakh to single digits.Each one of these was eliminated, barring two. One led to Sarkar and the other to Selim in Mumbai, say sources. “If a cellphone is used, it is very difficult to erase the mobile footprints,“ he added.
The identity of the culprits was ascertained 12 days after the robbery and despite half of them being caught on CCTV . The next big challenge for CID is to track the remaining six. “If the passport and visa details are any indication, they are not in the country any more,“ said an officer. But CID is still hopeful of bringing them to justice.
Selim and Sarkar was produced in a Ranaghat court on Friday . Both were remanded in 14 days' CID remand. The court allowed investigators' plea to charge Sarkar under additional sections for harbouring criminals. Assistant public prosecutor Pradip Kumar Pramanik told the court that Sarkar is “integral to the probe“. “We suspect that he not only sheltered the criminals at his home, but also got a share of the loot,“ he said. Selim, however, insists he did not rape the nun. He says he was on guard outside the convent and did not know what went on inside.
Police say it was Sarkar who chose the Ranaghat convent because it was virtually unguarded. “The modus operandi suggests he may be in the know of many such robberies, not only in Bengal but also Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu,“ a senior CID officer said.

Bharat Ratna for Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee was conferred the country's highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, at a special function at his residence on Friday . In a rare departure from protocol, President Pranab Mukherjee, himself a veteran parliamentarian, drove to Vajpayee's residence at Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyens' Delhi to confer the honour at a simple ceremony as the latter is ailing and has been out of public life.
The brief event took place in the presence of select dignitaries including Vice-President Hamid Ansari, PM Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh and close family members that included his foster daughter Namita and foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.
The citation read out at the occasion described Vajpayee as a statesman known for a subtle sharpness that engaged, attracted and brought many together. In his six-decade-long political career, five of them in Parliament, Vajpayee was elected to Lok Sabha 10 times and twice to Rajya Sabha.
Prime minister from 1998 to 2004, Vajpayee has faded from public life due to age-related illness. The event was kept out of media glare.
Considered the moderate face of BJP , he has been credited with taking bold initiatives for forging good ties with Pakistan which included a historic bus journey to Lahore in 1999 when he signed the landmark Lahore Declaration with Nawaz Sharif with both sides pledging to push for peace and security .
After the presentation of award, a tea was hosted for leaders who were invited for the function that included former President A P J Abdul Kalam, former PM Manmohan Singh, BJP leader L K Advani, Arun Jaitley, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav and CMs Parkash Singh Badal (Punjab), Mufti Mohammed Sayeed (J&K), N Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh) and Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan). Modi said, “Atalji's life was dedicated to the nation, he lived and thought for the nation for every second. In India there are crores of workers like me in whose life Vajpayeeji is an inspiration. The upcoming generations will continue to be inspired by him. I will pray to god that Bharat Ratna awardee Vajpayeeji's life continues to inspire and guide us forever,“ he said. Modi also thanked the President for his gesture to honour Vajpayee at his residence saying, “I express my gratitude to the President who himself came here and personally bestowed upon him, the Bharat Ratna award.“
“It is a historic day for crores of Indians today when Atal Bihari Vajpayee is being given Bharat Ratna award,“ he later tweeted.

Army to get supersonic Akash missiles

The Army will finally get some desperately needed supersonic firepower to take on enemy fighters, helicopters, drones and subsonic cruise missiles after years of grappling with obsolete air defence weapons.What makes it even more significant is that the new weapon system is 96% indigenous.
The 1.13-million strong force will begin getting the Akash “area defence“ missile systems, which have an interception range of over 25 km in all weather conditions, from next month. Though quite late in coming, the Akash systems pack a formidable punch by being capable of tackling multiple aerial threats attacking from several directions simultaneously.
Defence ministry sources said Manohar Parrikar is slated to symbolically hand over the first Akash ­ the surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) fired from mobile launchers with powerful multi-function radars to evaluate and track threats -to the Army in early April.
The Army initially ordered two Akash regiments for around Rs.14,180 crore.“The first full regiment should be ready by June-July, and the second one by end-2016,“ said a source. IAF has begun to deploy six Akash missile squadrons in the north-east to counter China's build-up of military infrastructure along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC), which includes eight fully-operational airbases in Tibet.

Of average internet speeds....

The average connection speed in India is a mere 2 Mbps, according to Akamai Technologies' report on the state of the internet for the fourth quarter of 2014. The peak internet speed stood at 14.5 Mbps in the quarter. The average speed places India at the 116th spot in global inter net speed rankings.
In contrast, South Korea's average speed is 22.2 Mbps and peak speed is 75.4 Mbps.If you wish to download a 10 MB song file in India, it will take more than 5 seconds, and in South Korea you can do it in less than half a second. While South Korea led the global list, other Asian countries like China (3.4Mbps average speed, 82nd position), Vietnam (99th) and Philippines (101st) were all ahead of India.
India's internet speed in the fourth quarter grew at 2.1% compared to the third quarter, and at 28% compared to the corresponding quarter in 2013. The global average connection speed was virtually unchanged in the fourth quarter of 2014, increasing by 0.7% to 4.5 Mbps.
Only 1.1% of the country's internet connections had speeds of 10 Mbps or more, and only 7.8% had a speed of at least 4 Mbps.
The average connection speeds among the top 10 countries remained well above the 10 Mbps “high broadband“ threshold, with South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan coming above the 15 Mbps needed for 4K readiness.
But when it comes to mobile internet speeds, Europe seems to have an upper hand The average mobile connection speed in the UK was the highest at 16 Mbps, while in Hong Kong it was 6.3 Mbps, in China 5 Mbps and in Australia 4.8 Mbps. India's average mobile speed was 1.9 Mbps, with just 5.2% connections having over 4 Mbps speed. Data traffic on mobiles in India grew 11% quarter-over-quarter and over 54% year-over-year.

Surrender subsidized LPG: NaMo

India needs to reduce oil imports by 10% over the next seven years through efficient use and speedier exploration and production from domestic fields to become self-sufficient in energy , PM Narendra Modi said on Friday .
Inaugurating `Urja Sangam', an energy conclave organized to mark 50 years of ONGC Videsh, Engineers India Ltd and IndianOil's Barauni refinery, the PM launched a campaign to exhort well-off consumers to surrender subsidy on cooking gas, indicating the importance of cutting fuel subsidy in reducing dependence on imports.
India imports 77% of its oil requirement and spent Rs.1.89 lakh crore, or roughly $80 billion, in 2013-14. Modi said if imports were cut by 10% by 2022, the country could look at halving it by 2030. “This 10%, we will produce ourselves and this should be our dream,“ he added.
“Our target has to be higher, only then we can reduce the import... for that we have to make effort,“ the PM said, adding the government was working towards piping gas to one crore households in the next four years.
The PM said Rs.100 crore in subsidy had been saved by 2.8 lakh people, who voluntarily gave up subsidy on cooking gas. “This money can be used for schools and providing medical facilities. I appeal to those who can buy LPG at market price to please not take subsidized LPG.“

Black panther `run over' in Satara

The carcass of a rare black panther was found lying along NH 4, near Khindwadi village in Satara district, on Friday morning. According to forest officials, the two-year-old, sub-adult black panther was one of the three known in the region near the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. The carcass was found by villagers along the road leading to Karad, said M N Mohite, assistant conservator of forests (territorial), Satara. “The villagers alerted us in the morning. The postmortem report revealed that the animal had suffered fractures in the pectoral girdle and injuries to the spine. It had also suffered massive internal bleeding. The animal must have been run over by a vehicle,“ Mohite said.
The area is located at the base of Ajinkyatara fort, which is on a hill that has some forest cover. The local people going for morning walk to the fort had spotted a panther a couple of times in the last 15 days.
Black panthers are not different species, but a melanistic variety of the normal spotted leopard. The reason for their unusual skin colour is linked to genetics and is not fully understood.


Media & Entertainment titbits

According to a KPMG annual report released at Ficci Frames, the M-E industry is poised to grow at 13.9% CAGR to reach Rs.1,96,400 crore over the next five years, from Rs.1,02,500 crore in 2014. There is a ` mixed bag of `good and not-so-good' news across segments.
A look at last year's mergers and acquisitions (M&As) would show growth in both volume and value terms, with television and new media being the two biggest gainers. The biggest deal being Reliance Industries' (RIL) acquisition of Network 18 Media and Investments and TV18 Broadcast for $167 million and $257 million, respectively.
The story , as always, is not the same across sectors -the best being new media and the worst being films. Television, which forms approximately 37% of the advertising pie, will see a long-term growth to go back to 15.5% from 13.8% last year.
Unfortunately , there was no happy ending for films in 2014. With just 0.1% growth, the industry would have actually de-grown, if not for a couple of big Tamil and Telugu movies at the end of the year.
While the film industry was a letdown, it was digital which was a big story in 2014.  In 2014, this category grew close to 45%. The biggest turn here was reaching the critical mass. Crossing 100 million in smartphones last year helped the digital story. Secondly, India now has 152 million active users, which is a large base, giving advertisers the scale.
Entertainment is becoming a personal experience and the second screen is definitely the mobile now which is compelling media companies to launch their mobile entertainment apps, like Ditto (Zee) and Hotstar (Star).

Somewhere in Haryana....

Ford commissions Sanand plant

US auto major Ford Motors Company (FMC)  commissioned its integrated manufacturing facility at motown Sanand, which is already a home to Tata Motors Ltd's Nano project.
With the commissioning of this plant, Ford India will have a total installed capacity of rolling out 4.4 lakh vehicles and 6.1 lakh engines every year. Ford is the second US auto giant to have set up its manufacturing facility in Gujarat. General Motors already has plant at Halol near Vadodara.
Ford will manufacture its new concept sedan `Figo Aspire' at the Sanand facility .Around 19 suppliers have already set up their shops at the vendor park in Sanand.
Japanese auto giant Suzuki Motor Corporation plans to invest Rs.8,500 crore over the next few years to set up three plants at Hansalpur with a total annual capacity of 7,50,000 vehicles. The construction of the first plant is already underway.
The 125 km-long belt -Sanand, Vithalapur, Hansalpur in Ahmedabad district, Manadal and Bahucharaji in Mehsana district -is emerging as an ideal location for the automobile sector.
Gujarat, which had plants of companies such as General Motors, Atul Auto and AMW , has in recent years seen auto makers such as Tata Motors Limited, Suzuki Motor Corporation, Ford, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) Pvt Ltd, Honda Cars India and Hero Moto Corp setting up their projects.
With the launch of Ford's new plant, the installed capacity in state has increased to 6,98,000 units per annum. With slew of mega projects either planned or under construction, the capacity is likely to go up to 46,33,000 units per annum.

Sagarmala Project

Many of the over 700 uninhabited islands across India will be developed for tourism, film making, entertainment activities, as honeymoon destinations, maritime security and also for generating non-conventional energy both wind and solar.
This scheme will be part of the ambitious Sagarmala project. The Cabinet on Wednesday approved the concept note and institutional framework to implement this massive project that Narendra Modi government has revived. The Sagarmala concept was first mooted by Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his last tenure.
“We have a total of 1,208 islands including the uninhabited ones and there are 185 lighthouses. These will be developed as hub of tourist activity. We will carry out a feasibility study ,“ shipping minister Nitin Gadkari said.
However, sources said that before coming out with any such plan, the government would have to consider the environmental impact, rich and fragile ecology of those islands and in some cases the adverse impact on the vulnerable tribal populations living in the nearby islands.
Shipping ministry officials said the plan to develop these islands, particularly the uninhabited ones, came up keeping in mind the need to protect these islands from any unauthorized occupation and for security reasons.

Physical Assets of the Central Government

Under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, 2003, the central government must make certain disclosures.These include information on the physical assets of the government. The data thus disclosed reveals that the Centre owns physical assets worth Rs.4.1 lakh crore. More than half is in the form of land, followed by vehicles, office equipment, buildings and machinery.This doesn't include assets created by state governments and also excludes assets under the cabinet secretariat, central police forces, defence ministry and the departments of space sciences and atomic energy

MMRDA's Budget snippets

Infrastructure projects in and around Mumbai got a boost as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) approved a budget of Rs.3,832 crore, including substantial allocations for Metro projects, an elevated road at Chembur and several railway works, for the next financial year.
The budget was approved on Thursday at an MMRDA meeting chaired by chief minster Devendra Fadnavis.
Despite stiff opposition by its ally Shiv Sena and environmentalists, the government has sanctioned Rs.190 crore for Metro III. “The Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro III corridor is crucial. It will provide noticeable relief to suburban commuters and so we have marked a sizeable provision for the corridor,“ said Fadnavis.
MMRDA has earmarked Rs.402.6 crore for the second phase of the Monorail project from Wadala to Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk (Jacob Circle). Work is expected to be completed next year.
At the meeting, an elevated road project to decongest the Chedda Nagar junction was approved. MMRDA also sanctioned Rs.161.5 crore for the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP), which includes the Kherwadi flyover, whose northern arm is likely to be completed by April, and the BKC connector.
For railway projects under Mumbai Urban Transport Project (II), MMRDA, has allocated Rs.1,005 crore. For the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, an allocation of Rs.758.5 crore was made under the Extended MUIP, including widening and improvement of several highways, flyovers, a bridge over Revas creek and repairs to Neral-Matheran Road and tourist spots in Matheran.

DD Kisan


Varying Petro prices in the country

Toll booths abolished

Of investments in Pune....

Somewhere in Bengal....

India & Qatar

India and energy-rich Qatar have signed six agreements, including one on transfer of sentenced prisoners, as the two countries sought to inject a fresh momentum in their bilateral ties.
The pacts were signed after Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani held extensive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which both the leaders discussed a range of issues including enhancing cooperation in energy sector and boosting trade and investment.
Under the provision of the pact on transfer of sentenced persons, Indian prisoners convicted in Qatar can be brought to India to serve the remaining part of their sentence. Similarly Qatari citizens convicted in India can be sent to their home country to serve jail term.
According to official figure, 96 Indians are currently languishing in various jails in Qatar which is home to around 600,000 Indians. The other five MoUs will provide for cooperation in areas like information and communication technology , atmospheric and ocean sciences and media.
Qatar is an important country for India in the Gulf region. It supplies 86% of India's liquified natural gas (LNG). The bilateral annual trade is around $16 billion.
The MoU in the field of information and communication technology would provide enhanced business opportunities for the Indian IT industry in Qatar. Another MoU was signed between the earth sciences ministry and Qatar meteorological department for cooperation in the field of atmospheric and ocean sciences.
A separate MoU was inked between diplomatic institute of Qatar's foreign ministry and foreign service institute of external affairs ministry to facilitate exchange of faculty members.

Mani to head GST panel

Kerala state finance minister K M Mani has been appointed as the chairman of the empowered committee of state finance minis ters on Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The chairman of the empowered committee has generally been from an opposition-ruled state. Mani fits the bill as he represents Kerala Congress (M) and is also a senior finance minister. The GST, an indirect tax regime, is to be rolled out from April 2016. The empowered committee chairman's post fell vacant after Abdul Rahim Rather, the former finance minister of Jammu & Kashmir, quit following the defeat of National Conference in state elections.

Spectrum Sale...a bonanza for the Government

The government raked in a record bounty of nearly Rs.1.1 lakh crore through a fiercely contested spectrum sale, which lasted 115 rounds and was spread over 19 days as telecom heavyweights such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio, the cash-laden newcomer owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, fought to bag a 20-year control over the airwaves.
The auctions ran under the shadow of a Supreme Court order that prohibited the government from revealing the details about the winners till the time it disposes off a series of petitions that have challenged the sale process. The apex court hears the matter on Thursday and the list of winners, the amount they spent, and the circles where they bagged the spectrum will only be known after that.
While there are no confirmed numbers, Idea Cellular and Bharti Airtel are said to have spent around Rs.28,000 crore each, while Vodafone may have spent around Rs.30,000 crore and Reliance Jio close to Rs.10,000 crore. There is no official confirmation from the companies or the government on this and final figures can vary .
The fresh auctions happened nearly a year after the government bagged a little over Rs.61,000 crore through a similar sale in February 2014. The mop-up from the latest round of auction gave finance minister Arun Jaitley the ammunition to take a dig at former telecom minister Kapil Sibal, who had said that there was `zero loss' from the 2007 2G licence allotment.

Aditya Birla group company Idea Cellular, which had the most crucial spectrum holdings at stake in the auction, paid the maximum amount of Rs.30,307 crore -more than a quarter of the overall spectrum receipts by the government -to maintain continuity of business. Bharti Airtel, the largest telecom operator of the country , paid Rs.30,000 crore.
The auction, which has made the government richer by nearly Rs.1.1 lakh crore (nearly Rs.29,000 crore will flow in over the next 10 days as part of the first tranche), saw the top telecom operators fight it out to retain the highly-efficient 900-MHz spectrum in key bands to maintain operations and infrastructure.
The companies will have a 20-year control over the spectrum -spread over four frequencies -and the airwaves can be used to launch a variety of services, including the data intensive 3G and 4G offerings.
Vodafone, the country's second-biggest operator, paid Rs.25,960 crore. Together, the top three telcos contributed nearly 80% to the government's auction kitty .
Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio was the fourth biggest spender with Rs.10,000 crore as the company bought 48.75 MHz in the 800-MHz band and 28 MHz in the 1,800 MHz band. It plans to launch 4G services across three frequencies -800 MHz, 1,800 MHz and 2,300 MHz.
“Jio's seamless 4G services using proven multi-band LTE technology and supported by our large spectrum footprint will provide superior user experience for voice, video and data services in line with the best service providers in the world,“ Mukesh D Ambani, chairman and MD of Reliance Industries, said.
This spectrum auction was crucial for the top operators.Idea was fighting to retain 900 MHz spectrum in nine service areas, which contribute 73% of its mobile revenues, Airtel in six service areas (35% of revenues), Vodafone in six service areas (38%), and Reliance Communications in seven circles (32%).
“Including this auction and November 2012 spectrum auction, Idea has managed to acquire renew new licenses with liberalized spectrum for 16 out of the 22 Service Areas, which is among the highest for any telecom operator. The company has next renewal of only four service areas in the year 2021 and remaining two service areas as late as 2026,“ the company said.
Tata Teleservices was a surprise buyer in this round as the struggling telco spent Rs.7,851 crore to bag spectrum in the 800-MHz and 1,800-MHz bands.

For Cement Roads

ADB forecasts

India is all set to overtake China's growth rate by clocking 7.8% GDP in 2015-16 and 8.2% during the following fiscal on the back of structural reforms and government's “pro-investment“ attitude, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said. In case of China, the GDP is expected to decelerate to 7.2% and 7%, respectively .
In the current fiscal, both the economies are expected to clock a 7.4% growth rate.“India is expected to grow faster than China in the next few years,“ ADB chief economist Shang-Jin Wei said while releasing the bank's annual publication Asian Development Outlook, 2015.
He added that the Indian government's pro-investment attitude, improvement in the fiscal as well as current account deficit situation, and some forward movement on resolving structural bottlenecks have helped improve the business climate, making India attractive again to both domestic and foreign investors.
The Indian government however, expects the growth rate to accelerate from 7.4% to 8-8.5% in 2015-16.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected a growth rate of 7.5% for next fiscal.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

The IAF's Hercules C130J, one of its heavy cargo aircraft, landed and took off safely from the Juhu airport in an exercise planned to test whether its short runway could be used safely for flight operations in the event of an attack on the neighbouring, bigger Mumbai airport.
The aircraft, with two dozen IAF officials, landed before 2 pm and departed in ten minutes. “ A few departures at Mumbai airport were held over to allow the Hercules to land at Juhu. Once it landed, the departures were cleared,“ said a Mumbai airport official.
The exercise with this massive transport aircraft was crucial as the general norm is for heavier aircraft to require longer runways to land and take off. The Juhu airport's runway 08-26, on which the IAF aircraft landed is 3,750-ft-long, which is about one-third that of Mumbai airport's. But the Hercules C130J can do tactical landings on short runways and dirt runways and, hence, Juhu is eligible to play the role of an alternative airport. Earlier in August 2013, the aircraft had landed at the runway at Daulat Baig Oldie in Ladakh, one of the highest and difficult-toland runways in the world.
The exercise has raised the hopes of pilots and operators as the Juhu airport, despite being the busiest heliport in the country , has poor infrastructure. The airport does not have a night landing facility. So civilian aircraft that operate from this airport use its runway only post sunrise and before sunset.